Muslim, Hindu, White or Chinese Crews?

Alistair Macnab
21st July 2009, 16:08
The "Where Are They Now- the Silent Majority" thread raises the question of the types of crews with which one served so I have started a new thread that gives everyone a chance to speak to this important facet of sailing on Bank Boats.
The White crews were still around when I joined Bank Line but I did not sail on any of these ships. Invariably, they were on liberties or empire boats as I remember.
Muslim crews from Calcutta and eventually Chittagong predominated in my experience. They were very experienced and were born seamen, often coming from 'kalassi ' villages in the Sunderbans. A Serang with leadership qualities was essential. He was often a village 'elder' as well so they had a 'social' responsibility to the crew and their families. Overhauling running rigging and the heavy lift gear were their specialities.
I sailed with two Chinese crews out of Hong Kong on the "Ettrickbank" and the "Carronbank". They were often quite 'raw' but always willing to learn. The only problem was that they thought too much and might have a different idea of how things should be done other than what the Bos'n or the Mate might want. Language was a problem. Port and starboard were difficult concepts for helmsmen, sometimes with hillarious or near-disaster consequences. Gambling and graft were the controlling interests.
Hindu crews from Calcutta were young, educated seafarers, some intent on gaining officer rank in due course. They were smart but wanted to be treated differently from the traditional officer-crew ways. For example, they wanted to be given rewards for unusual jobs well done. A case of beer was not an unusual request! Access to the ship's swimming pool was another. (This was objected to by the Engineer Officers!)
There seems to be ample scope for interesting remarks in this site!

Alan Rawlinson
21st July 2009, 16:56
Hallo Alistair,

Thanks for starting an interesting thread.

I agree about the Calcutta and Chittagong crews. I often wonder how much we knew about these guys and their needs and customs? As mate on the Southbank I got to know one of the young Calcutta and Hindu AB's, and I still remember him for the fact that he had a degree but had signed on on deck, and he asked me to stay on when I was hell bent on a change of scenery!

The white crew I sailed with on the Maplebank was a life changing experience which I still remember today. Most of the deck crew were pretty hard cases, with tons of experience. Basic and crude to a large extent, but characters never the less. The bosun and leading AB's all sewed themselves canvas working gear, caps included, from a bolt of white duck canvas in the focsle store. Booze seemed to rule their life. In port, anything went, and we lost all of them in Australian Spencer Gulf ports of Wallaroo, Port Lincoln, Port Pirie etc. ( Ah..... Port Pirie) In the 50's there was a good chance of remaining in Australia after deserting, and they were up for it! Deserters were replaced by crew from earlier desertions, brought down to the ship under escort by the local police.

Never sailed with a Chinese crew, but remember the Chinese carpenters with their amazing skill making fine carpentry, and obscene cigarette boxes of ladies figures legs akimbo.


Charlie Stitt
21st July 2009, 17:11
I must have been the most unlucky Mate in Bank Line when it come to crews, I was twice landed with the most useless Serang on the books, it must have cost him a fortune to get the job, nudge, nudge. The best lascar seaman I ever sailed with was a Tindal who come from the Maldives,a piece of rope tied between his ankles and up the rigging, hand over hand he would go. He was quite fond of a wee jar and was quite comical when back on board after a night ashore, brought some great curries to my cabin, spent the next day going round apologising to everyone, a real character and great worker. Chinese gambling reminds me of the Chippy and Fitter on a copra boat I was on, staging races between two copra bugs, one painted white, over a track laid out on a piece of cardboard, these guys would get so excited you could hear them all over the ship. Great memories keep flooding back. (Thumb)

21st July 2009, 17:36
Me and my favourite Cassab....Eastbank 1960....Coats

Charlie Stitt
21st July 2009, 20:35
Which one is you John ??

21st July 2009, 20:46
Which one is you John ??

By the time the photo was taken I was as brown as him though...Ali Akbar as I remember him....
He taught me a lot......Coats

Andy Lavies
21st July 2009, 22:12
The chinese crew in Ettrickbank never mastered the flushing of the toilets. As an apprentice one of my jobs morning and evening was to fill the three sanitary tanks. Every time I had to dive into the crew bog, holding my breath, and flush away huge piles of ....... !

And I had my ears boxed by Captain Williams when the engineer opened the wrong valve (on purpose?) and I filled his tank with oil instead of sea water.

22nd July 2009, 01:07
Never sailed with White or Chinese crews in the BanK Line, but of the crews that I did sail with, Chittagong crews from Noakhali were my favourite. As Alistair said in an earlier post, the make up of these crews - deck crew in particular - was totally parochial, with the Serang being more than the boss on board. Rigging from scratch and breaking-out the heavy lift derrick, or jumbo as we knew it, with these guys was a treat and made your beer at the end of it taste so sweet.
The closest I came to seeing a similar set up with a crew, was when I sailed as supercargo on the Nikea. The ship was registered in Andros, the Master and all the crew came from Andros and believe you me, Captain Vasili from Andros reigned supreme.

22nd July 2009, 08:52
you must have worked all the wrinkles out of the chinese crew on the Ettrickbank cos by the time i was on there they were great workers,AND best of all the food,we had a great chinese chief steward and he used to organise special dinners every so often,mouth is watering now just thinking about it.
White crew,good thing we were slow and spent a lot of time at sea on the Maplebank cos that was where i learn,t all my seamanship ,which stood me in good stead whilst up for 2nd mates.
The bosun on the maplebank was the only original deck crew to arrive back in the UK,as has been said before it was a case of the crew jumping ship in every port in OZ and the police bringing down odds and sods prior to sailing to make up the numbers.


Alan Rawlinson
22nd July 2009, 16:37
Remember the Bankline ships with fish drying on the poop, and blowing in the wind ? - a very common sight when Chinese carpenters were on board. They always had boxes of mysterious looking pills and potions too.

Andy Lavies
23rd July 2009, 09:09
Item on the Ettrickbank menu from the chinese chief steward "Springing Frog in the Fried Potato" - meant "Toad in the Hole."

23rd July 2009, 10:08
Yes, I recollect sailing with strange exotic crews - Bolshie crowd who seemed to think they were as good as we were - odd place Garston ;)

23rd July 2009, 20:19
I was apprentice in Brocklebanks, crosssing Indian Ocean. Muslim serang comes on teh bridge and asks the mate - "What direction Mecca, sahib ?"
After pointing WNW the crew gathered on the afterhatch to do their prayers. Mate played silly B's and accelerated the zig-zag and it was strange to see the crew tuning with the zig-zag towards the setting sun !

Charlie Stitt
23rd July 2009, 21:24
Sidsal, from your profile, I reckon you would be a very interesting person to yarn with. All the very best. CS.(Thumb)

Charlie Stitt
24th July 2009, 09:21
I would consider British crews to be among the best in the World, well trained and qualified, Bosun's AB's Firemen, Cooks, Stewards etc, providing they could not get on the booze. But then the same goes for Masters Mates Engineers Sparks and the ships cat. Yes Johnny Walker and his devious friends have a lot to answer for, CHEERS !! (Pint)

Bill Davies
24th July 2009, 17:39
I would consider British crews to be among the best in the World, well trained and qualified, Bosun's AB's Firemen, Cooks, Stewards etc, providing they could not get on the booze. (Pint)

Making a statement like above prompts me to ask the question 'when were you last at sea?'
I would suggest you use the 'past tense'.

Charlie Stitt
24th July 2009, 18:50
No Bill, I would'nt know what a British seaman looked like nowadays, where I come from, all crews Spanish etc(Sad)

Nick Balls
24th July 2009, 19:14
I've sailed with some amazing people. In L.O.F. we had some very interesting Indian crews. As a young man it amazed me to see and hear some of these very competent chaps at work.
Then I sailed with some Brits who taught me loads of good stuff.
Then I worked for a terrible outfit on the coast and yet again came across some "quality" guys. Namely from that famous group of Islands Cabo Verde.
Back again into the North sea and some truly heroic brits who knew the writing was on the wall. They NEVER let me down. Then it was the Portuguese ! Ah.....these people have some of the oldest seafaring traditions in the world . What more can you say! Oh I nearly forgot in more recent times I have sailed with polish guys , very well trained and excellent men.
Was I just lucky? No . I've seen fellows from Britain who said they were seamen , wrong . I've sailed with plonkers from Portugal and idiots from indonesia. At the end of the day you either have it or you don't.
Sadly I would say, increasingly we do see more plonkers than professionals,
Who's fault is that?

24th July 2009, 21:14
The engine room crew with Alfred Holt where really good, I liked the structure, No 1 Fireman was in charge and the Chiefs main man, No 2 Fireman looked after the 2nd Engineer, No 3 Fireman looked after the 3rd Engineer and No 4 Fireman looked after the 4th Engineer. During general maintenance they where more or less your fitters mate. It was very much a “Back scratching exercise.” you looked after the fireman and he looked after you.

( Attached... Myself... 4th Engineer with No 4 Fireman. 1963 “Antilochus”. ).


Charlie Stitt
26th July 2009, 17:30
When I was paying off, I thought lugging a big suitcase around was bad enough, but Lascar crews paying off. Remember all the bikes, sewing machines etc these guys collected during a voyage, and quite often they payed off in Colombo which meant they had to lug this stuff all the way Home :sweat: , how did they do it ? Just as well they were a sober lot.

15th August 2009, 21:06
We sailed on the Glenbank under Captain Stephens (alas, he had to be replaced on arrival in Australia) from Liverpool in Oct 54 arriving laboriously in Australia via Panama 3 months later. We were pleased to hear, and we had "known", that she was going on the copra run and we would only be out for some 7 or 8 months.
We just happened to be in port at the same time as the Springbank, a Sam boat which, as I recollect it, had the last white Bank Line crew on board.
We were asked, honestly, asked, if we would like to transfer over to her. All three apprentices politely declined. We were asked again, still relatively politely. And again we refused. We kept being asked. And we were assured that she was just going up to India and then via S Africa, to West Africa, and home. But we knew that pigs didn't fly. And having just done a 25 month trip I did not want a Marie Celeste trip that would see out the rest of my apprenticeship.
So we kept refusing and we were threatened with being struck off our indentures and flown home. The thought that the company would actually incur the cost of flying apprentices home seemed so inconceivable that we knew it to be an empty threat.
However when the super planned to come down and get involved we decided to bail out. And pigs did fly. We did go home as forecast. It was only a 9 month trip.
The crew left us in Calcutta. Of the original crew I do not think that more than 4 or 5 were left. We flew a paying off pennant in the best naval tradition from the after mast, of old bloomers, condoms (used?...I don't know) stockings, ladies for the use of..and other unmentionables until the Old Man (Captain Webb) noticed.
They were great fun...for the apprentices... to be with, and some contrast.
After they left, all water fountains (in the alleyways) came out of the accommodation, and the wartime double sprung mattresses and beds were removed, including from our cabins, and we came back to hard tack in the accommodation. Much as retrospect only....admired their tenacity in keeping costs down, this really was a move too far which really irked.
And it was such fun to be on the West African coast on a Sam boat. It proved a dress rehearsal for my later time with E.D.'s

15th August 2009, 23:03
I was apprentice in Brocklebanks, crosssing Indian Ocean. Muslim serang comes on teh bridge and asks the mate - "What direction Mecca, sahib ?"
After pointing WNW the crew gathered on the afterhatch to do their prayers. Mate played silly B's and accelerated the zig-zag and it was strange to see the crew tuning with the zig-zag towards the setting sun !

I also remember (fondly) my two cruises with the Brocklebank vessels "Maihar" and "Mahout" both built at Lindholmens Varv in Gothenburg, Sweden.
These vessels were the first Brocklebank vessels with medium speed diesels. Lindholme-SEMTPielstick, and I was along as an observer/liaison from the shipyard. I had had no experience with "lascars" and was appalled by the Serang system. The crew was willing enough, but appeared more in awe/fear of the respective Serang than having innate seamanlike qualities. The cruises, however, went well, and I was able to return to Sweden from Calcutta with good memories (not including the food).

15th August 2009, 23:04
not sure if the springbank was the last white crew ship ,Alistair will probably be able to confirm.
I left the maplebank (white crew)in end jan 54 at Bromborough and as far as I know she sailed again with white crew,and i feel it was a couple of years later before she left the fleet.

Donald McGhee
18th August 2009, 10:27
Best Bank Line sailors were from the Maldives, very skilled, friendly but unassuming. Not a great deal of them though, I never saw a full crew from there, but they fitted in well and generally made Serang or quartermaster.

18th August 2009, 10:35
The best and the worst I ever sailed with were both predominantly from Liverpool/North Wales. Just the one trip with a bad Liverpool crowd and many trips with a nucleus of scousers that were a joy to sail with.
Sailed with many West Indian crews - the Bajans were usually the best. Also had good experiences with Indian crews and West African (Sierra Leone) crews.

18th August 2009, 11:43
Can I ask a question please?

With regard to Muslim crews wanting to know the direction of Mecca, I have worked with on an FPSO coversion where we designed a Prayer Room complete with compass into the accommodation. This facility was obviously specifed by the owner/operator depending on where the vessel was going to work and I know there are other FPSOs like this.

Were similar facilities available on working cargo vessels and if so when were they introduced or did the Muslim crews normally have to ask the bridge which way to face and then use the upper deck?


18th August 2009, 11:47
They weren't on any ship I sailed on.

If they didn't know, they had to ask the direction to face. One Second Mate I sailed with thought it was funny to tell a Somali crew the wrong direction - it wasn't so funny when they twigged it!

John T.

Alan Rawlinson
18th August 2009, 16:51
It was a regular occurance in the 50's for the officer of the watch on the bridge to be asked " Which way Mecca, Sahib? "